When is pizza more than sauce and cheese, melted on just-baked dough? When it’s created by The Pizza Press, a rapidly growing, build-your-own pizza brand that’s set to open a new location later this summer at VUE on Balboa Peninsula.
The Pizza Press was founded in 2012 by CEO Dara Maleki, who grew up in the Anaheim resort district, which coincidentally would become the first home for his burgeoning pizza empire. The name, despite its obvious wink at traditional journalism, was actually inspired by the mechanized dough press that creates the base for a whole host of fresh ingredients to sizzle, drip and languish across its yeasty expanse. Still, ties to the bygone era of printed papers play heavily into this whimsical concept, and Maleki, an epicurean visionary as colorful and singular as the brand he conjured from scratch, explains to us exactly what it all means.
WEST OCEANFRONT: So, how does The Pizza Press relate to “the press” as we know it?
DARA MALEKI: The name harkens back to an era when newspapers were the cornerstone of our community. We believe fundamentally that The Pizza Press is supposed to be the fabric of a community. We encourage franchisees to open in their backyard so they can bring that sense of community to their particular location.
It seems like The Pizza Press is popping up everywhere. Why do you think your brand is making such an impact and experiencing such incredible growth?
The build-your-own pizza concept has been out there; we believe it’s not just about build-your-own pizza but about creating your own experience that’s special, unique and different. We deliver newsworthy customer service and a newsworthy product. We also have fresh ingredients and work with local purveyors to develop specialized offerings. I also think one of the big reasons people gravitate toward the brand is that we feature 18 to 24 craft beers on tap, which are locally selected.
Will you have craft beers at the Newport Beach location?
Yes. We just went on a great brewery tour of Towne Park [Brewery & Taproom], a new-ish Anaheim brewery. They’re making exceptional beers and also totally around the corner, totally under the radar.
What excites you about opening The Pizza Press in Newport Beach?
We want to bring great, affordable food to the beach cities, and Newport Beach is the next step. This is such a great area with so many young executives. I lived down here when I was a young, 20-something because that’s just where you naturally go.
Is The Pizza Press going to be our next great, late-night pizza option on the Peninsula?
We’re working with the city on that right now. We’re open until 12 [a.m.] on weekends but we’re trying to push it to 1 a.m. It’s really important that we are not only a part of the daytime community but also about the late night. I mean, every one of these people down here is much like myself: an entrepreneur, a business owner. And they don’t work the standard eight-hour days. Lunches are later, dinners are later. They’re burning the midnight oil every night of the week and if they’re trying to blow off some steam, we’re going to be there for them with great beer and great pizza. Heck if they need amazing cookies, we have unbelievable cookies made fresh every day.
Will the décor of The Pizza Press in Newport Beach reflect the strong surf culture of our town?
We have a timeless culture [at The Pizza Press]. We don’t want to throw a surfboard up on the wall and be like, “Hey, we’re surf-y now!” We aren’t pretentious in that manner; we have our black-and-white standards and stick to our script, no pun intended. Well, pun intended. We do like our puns.
OK, let’s be cheesy and get back to your pizza: Does it in any way reflect the healthy, California lifestyle that’s pretty synonymous with Newport Beach?
We offer fresh vegetables, which speaks to that California, fresh living and also gluten-free crust and vegan cheese. We hit the California diet very well.
And more on beer … Will the craft beer menu be static or will you change it out to feature different local breweries?
We’ll be rotating through all the time. With local breweries, we try to create and collaborate on custom beers that are exclusive to The Pizza Press. So we’ll buy 40 barrels or 80 cases to support them and their business venture. The key thing we value in beer culture is sharing the story. Every pizza’s got a story and every beer has a story. That’s what we bring to the public. Whether it’s a small brewery or one that’s gaining a lot of speed, we do not discriminate. We just look for great beer.
Balboa Peninsula is a pretty tight neighborhood and, not to generalize, but we generally like new businesses to really embrace a kind of harmonious co-existence with the locals. Any specific plans on how you’ll ingratiate The Pizza Press to our community?
Being part of a community is absolutely super important. I think as you grow as a brand, you try not to disconnect from creating ties with the local community and that’s something we’ve placed in our core values from the beginning. We will always be community-involved and interactive with after-school programs, charities and the like. Specifically, in Newport Beach, we want to shake hands. We want to meet people and find those who are the pillars. We would definitely like to be a supporter and advocate for the causes [the Newport Beach community] believes in like, for instance, beach cleanups.
That’s awesome to hear and especially important as your soon-to-be neighbor, the Crab Cooker, prepares to temporarily shut the doors of its iconic cherry-red building due to damage caused by the nearby construction.
I respect the Crab Cooker and it’s going to come back bigger than ever. It’s quite amazing how much restauranteurs have in common with each other. I know how hard it is to build one location and be successful. I’d be more than happy to set up days while [the Crab Cooker is] closed to keep the name alive, hosting events for them or an outdoor crab cook out. Maybe we even throw crab on pizza.
So, you’re all for supporting the Crab Cooker?
I remember the Crab Cooker since I was a child down in Newport Beach, building sandcastles. It is clearly an institution and deserves to be taken care of; whatever we can do to be brothers in arms, we’re here to be an advocate for them as they crumble and rise like a phoenix out of the ground again. We recently had to deal with a situation like that at our first location [in Anaheim]. Luckily, the Anaheim business community really helped out and we are bigger and better than we ever were before. Sometimes, you just have to count the blessings, keep your chin up and keep talking.